One of the most common questions I receive has to do with the cost of living in Cuenca and is it increasing?!?
The answer is “yes” and “no.”
For us, the bottom line hasn’t changed: our rent is the same, utilities, transportation (the bus is still 25 cents) and groceries are relatively inexpensive (except Jif Peanut Butter!). However, the services and products that expats require are gradually inching up.
One of my barometers is the place where I go to write (Wunderbar) and it’s been interesting to watch the “almuerzo” menu change over the past year from $1.75 to $2.00, $2.50, $2.75, $3.50, $4.00, $4.50 and now it’s $5.50! My first response was, “En serio” (Are you kidding?). Around Cuenca—especially in some of the finer restaurants—you will see the menu has been tampered with (meaning: stickers have been placed over the old prices to reflect the higher ones).
The Wunderbar Café is a real touristy place, right off Calle Larga and in the newly renovated building “La Casa de la Escalinata,” so I’m going to chock it up to the cost of building renovations! The same type of meal can be had all over the city for $2.00 (or less). But I love the “courtyard” area and I’ve written some of my best stories there, so it will still be one of my favorite places.
Just like the States, variations in prices exist. Coffee Tree is another one of my writing hangouts, but the cappuccino is not that great and it’s comparable to Starbucks prices. However, right down the street at “Indigo” I can get a “bowl” of café latte for 50 cents which is far superior.
It’s interesting that Mark received a cost of living raise at CEDEI and it’s only been a month! The reason for the raise is they feel that prices are going up in the city, so they gave all the teachers a raise.
Of course, when you factor in that our health insurance is so reasonable and medical costs are one-tenth of what they are in the States, it makes some of the other minor price elevations seem almost laughable.
We have asked our Ecuadorian friends what they think of all the changes that are occurring in Cuenca and for the most part they are favorable, but some have expressed concern. Many Ecuadorians are starting up their own businesses that cater to expats (translation services, language lessons, transportation, etc.). Some are charging ridiculous rates ($12-$20 an hour). And all of this is “untaxed” money (or under the table). There is no “factura” and no invoice. When you consider that the average breadwinner makes about $436 per month (or less) and they have to pay taxes on what they earn, you can understand their concern.
Times are changing in Cuenca and I’m sure next year—this time—the landscape of Cuenca will again reflect the changes. But they will be gradual and hopefully won’t change the “core” of “el centro.” At least there are no McDonald’s yet and I don’t foresee that happening anytime soon.
Cuenca reminds me a lot of “Taormina” in Sicily, Italy where we lived for six years and it was a real tourist town, but didn’t waver when it came to planning and projecting for the future. Today it still remains a quaint town with cobblestone streets that time has forgotten. I hope that Cuenca can remain that way as well.
Until next time…hasta luego!